Thursday, July 20, 2006

Playing Hooky with Dinner

My kids are really good eaters. They understand the basics of nutrition and aren't afraid to try things. But, they also have an uncle that is kind of lazy in the cooking department. He's been known to have just popcorn for dinner, and they love that idea. My kids also understand the importance of good timing.

The past couple of weeks have been pretty stressful for me. I'm trying to do too many things, and I have a deadline approaching on a writing job that I'll get paid for (a little, but it's better than nothing!). I want to try so many new recipes for dinner that when I go shopping, unless I keep to my list I end up way over budget and with a spinning head, trying to remember what I have at home and what yummy-sounding recipe called for something exotic that just happens to be tempting me at the moment.....Where was I? Oh yes, my kids and good timing. Well, a few days ago when I read Kitarra's recipe for gingered-mango habañero sauce I knew I had to try it. It brought back so many wonderful memories of Mexico, and teased me with a new combination of tastes. And her suggestions for using the sauce! Who wouldn't be tempted by a sauce that works as a marinade, a dipping sauce, and as a dessert topping? Not me, that's for sure!

So, there we were at the grocery yesterday, and I see that the mangoes are lusciously ripe. I can't resist! And I had the ingredients for Kit's sauce memorized already....limes, easy enough.....ginger's already at home.....but what about a habañero? The store doesn't have any fresh ones. A jar of pickled ones, for $4, or some dried, at just over $1? Dried it is. And the last item: a big bucket of decent vanilla ice cream.

I improvised a bit on her recipe, as you'll see if you check hers out and look at mine below, and give hubby a taste. He's not big on real spicy stuff, but this doesn't seem too spicy to me.....but he doesn't like it. Uh-oh.....I'm going to be the only one eating this big batch of sauce! But then my son asks for a taste, and after explaining to him that it's spicy, he still decides to try it (he loves mangoes). He likes it! I'm amazed!

Then he and his sister do exactly what I'm hoping for......they ask for a popcorn dinner. I can do better than that! But I'm not going to tell them that....I whip up another ice cream topping, then start on the popcorn.

I despise that microwaved, artificially-flavored and -colored crap. I like it the old-fashioned way. I haul out my big stockpot, the one with a clear lid, and the peanut oil. I pour in a bunch of oil and get it heating while my son gets two sticks of butter from the fridge. Once the oil's hot, in go the white popcorn kernels, and the kids are having a blast watching them darken, then explode as the water inside each kernel turns to steam and escapes. The butter's melted and mixed into the huge bowl of popped corn, and I dust it with my treasured French gray sea salt. We settle in front of my computer to watch some videos, and everybody's happy.

At a break, I slip back into the kitchen to prepare the surprise "second course", the ice cream. Only my daughter declines trying Kit's mango-habañero sauce on her ice cream - it was too hot for her. Hubby says it's not as hot on the ice cream, but he's skeptical of a hot sauce as a dessert topping. He says it sounds better as a marinade for chicken or fish. To my surprise, my son loves it and gobbles it up, as do I. Kit has truly created a wonder in this sauce, and I'm dying to see if I can come up with a way to make a good truffle flavor out of it.

So we had a very fun, very relaxing dinner last night. The kids think they got away with something, I was happy to let them think that and to get an easy night in the kitchen, and hubby....well, I have some chicken breasts thawing already. Maybe he'll like the sauce better tonight. But he sure wasn't complaining last night either. Okay, so we didn't have the most nutritious dinner ever, but we all had fun, and that's important too.

Gingered Mango-Habañero Sauce - slightly modified from Kitarra's excellent recipe - and do check out her beautiful photos of it!

4-6 ripe mangoes, peeled and pitted (4 if large, up to 6 if small OR if you want a milder sauce)
1 ripe habañero pepper, fresh or dried
1/2 C lime juice
3-inch piece of ginger, grated
1/4-3/4 C raw sugar
1-2 C water

Wash the pepper if fresh, then remove the stem. If dried, soak the pepper in 1 cup of hot water until soft, then remove stem. If a milder sauce is desired, remove the seeds from the habañero. Chop the pepper in a blender or food processor until it's in fine bits. Add the mangoes and ginger to the processor and process until the mixture is completely smooth.

Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan; add the lime juice, 1/4 C of sugar, and 1 C of water; mix well. (If using a dried habañero, you can use the soaking water, or for a less hot sauce, use fresh water. I used my soaking water.) Bring to a boil on medium low heat, stirring occasionally until the sauce has thickened to your liking. This should take between 30-45 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust the sugar if necessary. (As Kitarra points out, the sugar helps offset the pepper's heat...but the sauce shouldn't be overly sweet.)

My notes: The dried habañero seemed to work just fine, but was probably harder to process than a fresh one. I found several unchopped seeds while I was cooking the sauce, and just removed them. I know I'll be making this again, so I'll make sure to try it with a fresh pepper next time! I also didn't have alot of raw sugar, just 1/4 C. My sauce needed more sugar than that, so I used some dark brown sugar instead. It deepened the lovely orange color a bit, but gave the sauce a nice depth of flavor. Next time I'll just use it, since I don't regularly buy raw sugar. Last, this recipe depends on ripe, juicy mangoes, so if you can't get them, don't bother. In Mexico, I learned an easy way for getting as much goodness as possible from the fruit. Once you've cut off all the flesh you can from the pit, take the pit in your hand and squish it round and round, like you'd turn a slippery bar of soap in your hand. You'll be surprised at how much juice you get!

Lightly Brandied Fresh Cherries - My second ice cream topping, which was also a hit, even though I just tossed it together

About 2 dozen ripe fresh cherries, washed, stemmed, pitted, and halved
2-3 T. dark brown sugar
about 30 mL good brandy (I used VSOP)
1/4-1/2 t. ground cinnamon, or to taste

Stir sugar into cherries and allow to sit for a few minutes. Add brandy and cinnamon; mix well and allow to sit at room temperature so that the flavors meld. I discovered as I was putting the leftovers away that it had continued to improve after we'd had our ice cream, so I'd guess that about 2 hours of rest would be best. I used Penzeys Ceylon cinnamon for this, because it has a brighter flavor that complemented the cherries very well.

I am do glad that you like the sauce! Your second sauce looks wonderful too! I LOVE cherries.

I thought about using brown sugar as the sweetener but I didn't have any! All I had was raw! Too funny that you had the reverse situation!

Great tip about the mango. I always feel guily leaving so much of the stuff around the pit!

Le me know how you like it on chicken! I am having some left over chicken for lunch today! Its a huge hit at my house!
We just finished dinner, and I'm eating a huge bowl of ice cream with more of the sauce on it. I absolutely love it! Hubby enjoyed it much more on the chicken. There was hardly any heat to it, but a lot of flavor. It'd be good as kebobs, with big chunks of pineapple in between the chicken or pork. My daughter wouldn't even try it, buy my son enjoyed it on the chicken.

So it's not a universal success here, but I love it and will make it again. Just wish I knew how long I'd need to process it to can it safely.
Thanks for the recipe (kitarra, too)--I love the idea of a hot sauce on ice cream.
Hi Lucette, glad to see you back online! I hope your trip was good. If you make the sauce, please let us know your impressions.
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